California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris wants to require police agencies to file detailed reports about officer-involved shootings to her office electronically, so they can be quickly and easily posted on a state website for public viewing.
Despite the heated national debate over police use of force, no reliable database tracks all police shootings in California, making it difficult for researchers to definitively answer some fundamental questions, including whether minorities are shot at disproportionately higher rates and which departments pull the trigger most often.
For years, state law required police departments to report deaths in custody, including fatal officer-involved shootings, but the requirement had little enforcement and many departments routinely neglected to file the required information.
And, there was no reporting requirement if a suspect was shot but not killed.
Last year, the Legislature passed a law requiring new, detailed reports on all police shootings that result in serious bodily injury or death. The departments will have to disclose the age, race and gender of the person shot, whether the person was armed and, if so, what type of weapon was possessed.
That law, however, allowed departments to provide the information on paper. The new bill backed by Harris and sponsored by Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks) would require departments to submit the information electronically, making it much easier to disseminate on the attorney general's Open Justice website.
"This legislation will bring criminal justice data reporting into the 21st century," Harris said.
The bill would also require departments to file traditional crime statistics electronically, including the numbers of murders, rapes, robberies and property crimes. Currently, 60% of departments submit that information on paper, requiring state workers to type it into computers before it can be analyzed and disseminated. The process is unnecessarily expensive and time-consuming, state officials said.
Harris, a Democrat who is running for U.S. Senate, has been criticized by some civil rights activists for not doing enough to increase accountability for police departments amid the national debate over shootings of young black men. Harris, who is the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, is the top law enforcement officer in California.
Last year, she opposed a bill that would have made her office responsible for investigating police shootings. Currently, those investigations are handled by local prosecutors, who critics say are too close to the police to provide impartial oversight.
A Times investigation last month found that since 2004, there had been more than 2,000 officer-involved shootings in Southern California, with only one officer charged with a crime. He was acquitted.